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Owensboro, Kentucky

Owensboro, Kentucky
Historic District in downtown Owensboro
Historic District in downtown Owensboro
Nickname(s): BBQ Capital of the World
Motto: "Progress 1817"
Location of Owensboro within Kentucky
Location of Owensboro within Kentucky
Country United States
State Kentucky
County Daviess
Settled (as Yellow Banks) 1797
Established (as Owensborough) 1817[1]
Incorporated 1850[1]
 • Mayor Ron Payne
 • Mayor Pro Tem Deborah May Nunley
 • City Manager William Parrish
 • City 20.4 sq mi (52.9 km2)
 • Land 19.1 sq mi (49.5 km2)
 • Water 1.3 sq mi (3.4 km2)  6.47%
Elevation 394 ft (120 m)
Population (2010)
 • City 57,265
 • Estimate (2014) 58,374
 • Density 3,057/sq mi (1,180.4/km2)
 • Metro 116,506
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC−5)
ZIP codes 42301-42304
Area code(s) 270 & 364
FIPS code 21-58620
GNIS feature ID 0500082
Website .org.owensborowww

Owensboro is a home rule-class city[2] in Daviess County, Kentucky, in the United States. It is the seat of its county[3] and the 4th-largest city by population in the state. It is located on U.S. Route 60 about 107 miles (172 km) southwest of Louisville, and is the principal city of the Owensboro metropolitan area. The city's population was 57,265 at the 2010 census,[4] with an estimated population of 58,374 in 2014.[5] The metropolitan population was estimated at 116,506 in 2014.[6]


  • History 1
  • Manufacturing history 2
  • Economy 3
    • Top employers 3.1
  • Religion 4
  • Geography 5
  • Climate 6
  • Demographics 7
    • Metropolitan area 7.1
  • Law and government 8
  • Education 9
  • Transportation 10
    • Future Interstates/Interstate spurs 10.1
  • Cultural features 11
    • Media 11.1
    • Events of interest 11.2
    • Points of interest 11.3
  • Notable people 12
  • Sister cities 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • External links 16


There is evidence of American Indian settlement in the area dating back 12,000 years. Following a series of failed uprisings with British support, however, the last Shawnee were forced to vacate the area before the end of the eighteenth century.

The first European descendant to settle in Owensboro was frontiersman William Smeathers or Smothers in 1797, for whom the riverfront park is named. The settlement was originally known as "Yellow Banks" from the color of the land beside the Ohio River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered at what is today's Owensboro prior to departing on their famous travels. In 1817, Yellow Banks was formally established under the name Owensborough, named after Col. Abraham Owen. In 1893, the spelling of the name was shortened to its current Owensboro.

In August 1865, Owensboro was subject to a raid by a band of Confederate guerrillas from Tennessee led by Captain Jack Bennett, an officer in Stovepipe Johnson's Partisan Rangers. Bennett's men rode into Owensboro, tried and failed to rob a local bank, took 13 Union soldiers of the 108th Colored Infantry prisoner, executed them, burned the bodies on a supply boat and escaped back to Tennessee having covered a total of 300 miles (480 km) on horseback inside six days. Another major battle occurred 8 miles (13 km) south of Owensboro and is today signified by a monument marking the battle located beside US Highway 431.

There have been several distillers, mainly of bourbon whiskey, in and around the city of Owensboro. The major distillery still in operation is the Glenmore Distillery Company.

On August 14, 1936, downtown Owensboro was the site of the last public hanging in the United States. Rainey Bethea was executed for the rape and murder of 70-year-old Lischa Edwards. The execution was presided over by a woman sheriff, Florence Shoemaker Thompson, who gained national media attention for her role in the process.

The end of the Second World War brought civil engineering projects which helped turn Owensboro from a sleepy industrial town into a modern, expanding community by the turn of the 1960s. Many of the projects were set in motion by Johnson, Depp & Quisenberry, a firm of consulting engineers then engaged in a runway redesign at the County Airport; the "Depp" in question was a member of an old and prodigious Kentucky family which includes the town's most famous son, actor Johnny Depp.

Manufacturing history

The Owensboro Wagon Company, established in 1884, was one of the largest and most influential wagon companies in the nation. With nearly eight styles or sizes of wagons, the company set the standard of quality at the turn of the 20th century.

Frederick A. Ames came to Owensboro from Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1887. He started the Carriage Woodstock Company to repair horse-drawn carriages. In 1910 he began to manufacture a line of automobiles under the Ames brand name. Ames hired industrialist Vincent Bendix in 1912, and the company became the Ames Motor Car Company. Despite its product being called the "best $1500" car by a Texas car dealer, the company ceased production of its own model in 1915. The company then began manufacturing replacement bodies for the more widely sold Ford Model T. In 1922, the company again remade itself and started to manufacture furniture under the name Ames Corporation. The company finally sold out to Whitehall Furniture in 1970.[7]

1899 saw the start of the Kentucky Electrical Lamp Company, a light bulb manufacturing company which eventually was acquired by Kentucky Radio Company (Ken-Rad) in 1918 and later acquired by General Electric in 1945 and in 1987 acquired by MPD, Inc.,[8] created the light bulbs that illuminated the first night game in the history of Major League Baseball on May 24, 1935, between the Reds and Phillies at Cincinnati's Crosley Field.[9] The Owensboro plant was a major part of General Electric's vacuum tube manufacturing operations, producing both receiving types and military/industrial ceramic types. In 1961, engineers at the General Electric plant in Owensboro introduced a family of vacuum tubes called the Compactron.

In June 1932, John G. Barnard founded the Modern Welding Company in a small building located near the Ohio River at First and Frederica streets where the Commonwealth of Kentucky office building sits today. Today, Modern Welding Company has nine steel tank and vessel fabrication subsidiaries located throughout the United States, and five welding supply stores located in Kentucky and Indiana. The company is the country's largest supplier of underground and aboveground steel storage tanks for flammable and combustible liquids. The company celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007.[10]

Texas Gas Transmission Corporation was created in 1948 with the merger of Memphis Natural Gas Company and Kentucky Natural Gas Corporation and made its headquarters in Owensboro. Since that time, Texas Gas changed ownership four times. The company was bought by CSX Corp. in 1983, by Transco Energy Corp. in 1989, by Williams in 1995, and by Loews Corporation in 2003.[11]


Top employers

Owensboro Medical Health System alt text
Owensboro Medical Health System

According to Owensboro's 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[12] the top employers in the city were:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Owensboro Medical Health System Hospital 3,300
2 U.S. Bank Home Mortgage 1,261
3 Owensboro Public Schools 778
4 Specialty Foods Group 470
5 Walmart 541
6 Unilever 515
7 City of Owensboro 481
8 Commonwealth of Kentucky 471
9 Toyotetsu 372
10 UniFirst 350


In 1937, Pope Pius XI established the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro, which spans approximately the western third of the state. It includes 32 counties and covers approximately 12,500 square miles (32,000 km2).[13]


Military memorial on the riverfront

Owensboro is located at (37.757748, −87.118390),[14] at the crook of a bend in the Ohio River. Owensboro is 37 miles (60 km) southeast of Evansville, Indiana.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Owensboro has a total area of 20.4 square miles (52.9 km2), of which 19.1 square miles (49.5 km2) is land and 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2), or 6.47%, is water.[4]


Owensboro has a humid subtropical climate which is characterized by hot, humid summers and moderately cold winters. Day-to-day temperature differences can be high during the winter. Summers, in comparison, are much more stable. Severe weather, including the threat of tornadoes, is not uncommon throughout much of the year, with several notable events occurring throughout the city's history.
Climate data for Owensboro, Kentucky
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 41.2
Average low °F (°C) 23.2
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.3


As of the census[17] of 2012, there were 58,083 people and 23,380 households within the city. The population density was 2,999.1 people per square mile (1,198.4 per km2). There were 26,072 housing units at an average density of 1,394.7 per square mile (538.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 87.5% White, 7.3% African American, 0.9% Asian, 0.1% Native American, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.55% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.2% of the population.

There were 23,380 households out of which 23.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.7% were married couples living together, 13.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.8% were non-families. 33.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.7% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 27.4% from 25 to 44, 22.4% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 87.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,289, and the median income for a family was $41,333. Males had a median income of $33,429 versus $21,457 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,183. About 12.2% of families and 18.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.9% of those under age 18 and 12.4% of those age 65 or over.

Metropolitan area

According to the 2007 census, the Owensboro Metropolitan Area includes Daviess, Hancock, and McLean counties.

Law and government

Daviess County Courthouse constructed in 1964

Owensboro has operated under a City Manager form of government since 1954. Citizens elect a mayor and four city commissioners who form the Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners is the legislative body of the city government and represents the interests of the citizens. The Board of Commissioners hires a city manager who administers the day-to-day operations of the city.

The mayor is elected for a term of four years. Each city commissioner is elected for a term of two years. The term of the city manager is indefinite and based on performance.


The Owensboro Public Schools, Daviess County Public Schools, and the Diocese of Owensboro's Catholic School System oversee K-12 education in and around Owensboro.

Owensboro is home to two private, four-year colleges, Brescia University (Catholic) and Kentucky Wesleyan College, and one public community college, Owensboro Community and Technical College. A campus of Daymar College is also located in Owensboro, and Western Kentucky University has an regional campus there.

In 2006, plans were announced for a research center operated by the University of Louisville to be located at the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center, a part of the Owensboro Medical Health System, to study how to make the first ever human papilloma virus vaccine, called Gardasil, from tobacco plants. U of L researcher Dr Albert Bennet Jenson and Dr Shin-je Ghim discovered the vaccine in 2006. If successful, the vaccine would be made in Owensboro.[18]


Glover Cary Bridge as seen from Smothers Park

US 60 and US 431 serve Owensboro, with US 431 terminating at the former US 60 Bypass (now signed US 60). US 231 and US 60 form a partial beltway around Owensboro. KY 81, KY 56, KY 331, KY 298, KY 54, and KY 144 also serve the city.

Future Interstates/Interstate spurs

  • Interstate 67, a proposed north-south interstate link between northern Michigan and Nashville that will pass through Owensboro. I-67 would use the recently constructed Natcher Bridge to Kentucky in Owensboro as well as the existing Natcher Parkway and Owensboro By-pass Extension to connect with I-65 near Bowling Green.[19]
  • Interstate 66/65 Spur[20]
  • Interstate 69 Spur.[21] Today known as the Audubon Parkway, this spur is to be numbered Interstate 369.
  • Plans are now underway for a new 3.4-mile (5.5 km) U.S. 60 bypass extension on the east side of Owensboro.[22]

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport serves, along with Evansville Regional Airport, as one of the region's primary commercial airports.

The Owensboro Transit System (OTS) offers bus transit to residents, and the Green River Intra-County Transit System (GRITS) offers specialized bus services to residents with disabilities who are not able to ride fixed-route public transportation buses.

Cultural features

Owensboro was named an All-American City in 2013.[23] Owensboro placed fourth on Area Development's Top 20 Southern Cities, with a 9th-place ranking for its "recession busting factors" among the Top 25 Small Cities.[24]


The daily newspaper is the Messenger-Inquirer, owned by the Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Kentucky.[25]

Radio stations include WBIO, WOMI, WVJS and WBKR broadcasting from Owensboro. One, WSTO-FM, is actually licensed to Owensboro, although its studios are now located in Evansville.

Although no television stations are based in the city, it is part of the Evansville television market, which is the 100th-largest in the United States, according to Nielsen Media Research.[26] However, in early 2007, WFIE-TV opened a bureau in Owensboro which covers news on the Kentucky side of the market. Many of the local television stations often promote themselves as serving Evansville, Indiana, Owensboro, and Henderson, Kentucky.

Fireworks over the river in Owensboro
Owensboro Concert alt text
Concert during July 4th celebration, 2010

Owensboro Bar-B-Q Festival alt text
Owensboro BBQ Festival, 2008

Events of interest

  • Owensboro considers itself the "BBQ Capital of the world"; it holds its International Bar-B-Q Festival and competition every second weekend in May.
  • Each summer, Owensboro is host to the Big O Music Fest,[27] a large country music festival. Some of the artists who have played at the festival include Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen, and Gary Allan. The one day event, dubbed "The Party of the Year", draws an estimated 12,000 people from across the country. The Big O Music Fest is held at Reid's Orchard.
  • Owensboro also hosts ROMP, "River of Music Party", a bluegrass festival.[28] ROMP has grown to 20,000 visitors a year. Some artists include Sam Bush, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, and Old Crow Medicine Show. ROMP won the Governor's Award for Community Arts in 2013.
  • Lanham Brothers Jamboree[29] is an event held every second Saturday from April through September at the Diamond Lake Resort Theater in Owensboro. The jamboree was started by Randy Lanham and Barry Lanham. All show are videotaped and broadcast on KET KY, Kentucky Educational Television.
  • During the summer, the city offers Friday After 5, a free 16-week series of outdoor concerts on the downtown riverfront. The festival includes live bands, events for families, and entertainment every Friday from 5:00 pm till 10:00 pm. An estimated 55,000 people attend the events.[30]
  • The Owensboro PumpkinFest is held each September at the Sportscenter/Moreland Park complex. The festival includes food vendors, crafts people, carnival rides, children and adult activities and games, and contests using pumpkins.[31] Each year, the festival hosts a weekend-long concert series featuring some of the area's top bands, such as the Velvet Bombers, Sundown, Bad Kitty, and Mr. Nice Guy, to name a few. The event was started by the Glenmary Sisters as a way to raise awareness and funds for their mission work in the southeastern United States. The festival was handed over to New Beginnings Rape Crisis Center in October 2009.[32]
  • Owensboro is home of a unique annual fundraiser: Men Who Cook – Celebrity Chefs Gala & Auction. The first Men Who Cook was held in 2007 through the collaboration of Richard Remp-Morris,[33][34] Deputy Chief David Thompson with the Owensboro Police Department, and many dedicated volunteers. Men Who Cook features amateur chefs who display their culinary talents in a friendly competition for coveted Silver Spoon Awards. All proceeds from the event support the mission work of the Glenmary Sisters, who since 1941 have supported the poorest of Americans living in the rural South and Appalachia.[35]
  • During the summer, Owensboro is home of the Owensboro Oilers, a baseball team in the collegiate wood-bat Ohio Valley League. The Oilers were the KIT League's 2008 playoff champions and the 2006 KIT League season champions. The team is named for the baseball minor league farm team "Owensboro Oilers" which existed in the 1940s.
  • In February 2013, Owensboro hosted indoor football games of the Owensboro Rage. The Rage, who relocated from Evansville, Indiana, played in the Continental Indoor Football League.

Points of interest

Notable people


Sports figures


Dudley Morton Memorial at the American Legion Hall

Authors and journalists


Sister cities

Owensboro has two sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:[37]

See also


  1. ^ a b Commonwealth of Kentucky. Office of the Secretary of State. Land Office. "Owensboro, Kentucky". Accessed 18 September 2013.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ – Ames Buggy Company
  8. ^ Leonard Rex, "The seizure of the Ken-Rad Plant-1944". Daviess County Historical Quarterly, April 1984, pp 27–31
  9. ^ Suzi Bartholomy, "Thackers mark anniversary of landmark baseball game", Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. Wednesday, May 26, 2010
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ City of Owensboro CAFR
  13. ^ Owensboro Diocese Home Page
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Two at UofL help invent vaccine – Courier Journal
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ [1] Archived February 3, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ [2] Archived May 27, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^
  36. ^ Mark W. Gordon, "Rediscovering Jewish Infrastructure: Update on United States Nineteenth Century Synagogues", American Jewish History 84.1 (1996) 11–27
  37. ^

External links

  • City of Owensboro official website
  • Owensboro-Daviess County Convention and Visitor Bureau
  • Entry about Owensboro from the Kentucky Atlas and Gazetteer, a University of Kentucky website
  • Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce
  • 1821 Advertisement for an auction for land around Owensboro, Kentucky, from the Library of Congress
  • A Kentucky City Reinvents a Faded Downtown, Owensboro, Ky.—NY Times November 15, 2011
  • Daviess County PVA

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